(1968, Crime Drama, b&w)
Sexy or horrifying?—you decide!
In a nutshell:
A pair of desperate failures falls in love.
Auto mechanic/junkyard keeper Tony receives a visit from a middle-aged bucktoothed hipster and his blank-faced henchman. Bucktoothed Hipster has heard that Tony was an underwater demolitions expert during the war, and would like to hire him for some light heist work. Tony refuses, so Hipster leaves his card and wanders on. Later, a visit from a fruity Shakespearean somehow changes his mind.
Tony goes to meet Hipster at the latter’s burlesque establishment, where he meets prudish stripper Sandy (Rue McClanahan). Sandy mistakes Tony for Hipster and delivers a longish speech about how her scruples forbid her from taking off her top during her striptease act. (I think. Between the bad editing, intermittent sound, and non sequitur script, pretty much everything I’ve put in this summary amounts to an educated guess.) Tony comes back with an even longer anti-show business rant that communicates incomprehensible, soul-crushing despair. Sandy bursts into tears. Tony attempts to console her by asking her out. She inexplicably accepts before leaving. Hipster arrives to greet Tony and presumably explain the heist.
The next day, Tony and Sandy frolic on the beach, during which Sandy lets slip that she has a meeting with a writer and a producer that evening. Tony is suspicious that such a meeting would take place so late at night in the writer’s apartment, but Sandy’s hopeful desperation is such that she goes anyway. The producer never shows up; the writer plies Sandy with alcohol (and perhaps drugs; it’s not clear) and eventually rapes her. Tony has followed her and waited beneath the writer’s window all this time. He sees Sandy flee the apartment in tears. The writer stumbles out after her. Tony waits until Sandy’s out of sight before beating the writer within an inch of his life. That night, Sandy returns to her stripping job, where her newly lowered self-esteem lets her take off just about everything for the crowd.
Next day, Bucktoothed Hipster and Blank-Faced Henchman pretend to frolic on the beach while Tony scuba dives under a pier. Hipster and Henchman dig up black masks and jumpsuits to rob an armored car during its unexplained visit to a small, nondescript shack. They lock the guards in the shack, toss the waterproof bag of money off the pier, and change back into their beach-frolicking clothes.
Tony climbs out of the water with the bag of money some time later; he heads straight to Sandy’s house and offers to “take her away from all this.” She doesn’t want anything to do with the heist, so Tony leaves to walk the beach in despair. A meeting with a little girl convinces him to return and confess his love. He won’t take any of the stolen money if she’ll come with him. They can start a new life together somewhere else. She agrees, and they make love.
Meanwhile, Blank-Faced Henchman has killed his Bucktoothed Hipster boss and hidden the body under the burlesque show’s stage floor. Tony shows up to deliver the money. He says he doesn’t want any of it, but Henchman and his switchblade have other ideas. Tony is stabbed through the gut before he can whack Henchman with a stage light and escape. He makes it back to Sandy’s house for a muttering death scene.
Later, a pair of motorcycle cops chases the wounded Blank-Faced Henchman over an embankment. His car explodes; the money bag is thrown clear; and the Henchman presumably expires.
The Film Crew (consisting of Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett) explains their mission to provide commentary tracks for all movies that don’t currently have one. They take a conference call from their boss Bob Honcho, who introduces their movie. Eventually everyone dons a headset and sits in front of a TV to let the commenting begin.
Recognizing the business acumen of the Bucktoothed Hipster, Bill decides to hold a lunch meeting to discuss the Film Crew’s “core competencies.” At Bill’s insistence, Mike suggests that said competencies include “ham” and “more ham,” while Kevin’s suggestions are “paperclip” and “pencil.” Bill is disappointed, and delivers a longish speech about nothing in particular. When he comes to the end, he realizes that Mike and Kevin have finished their lunches, eaten his lunch as well, and then used the white board to draw Brian Dennehy riding a dragon.
In an attempt to recreate the Blank-Faced Henchman’s death scene, Mike prepares to club Bill to death with a giant wad of cotton candy. Bill interrupts to point out that the Henchman did not actually die after being clubbed with the stage light, but went on to crash and explode his car in a later scene. He invites his friends to crush his skull regardless, but the disillusioned Mike and Kevin refuse.
Bill dons glasses and a black, long-sleeved shirt to deliver a sonnet titled Ode to Lunch. Quoth he, “For less did Menelaus launch his ships / Two sandwiches, a cookie, and some chips.”
Thus begins a bold new era in cinematic mockery, as the former cast of Mystery Science Theater 3000 gathers again to take on the worst films of yesteryear. Turns out they’re really, really good at it. Take Hollywood After Dark, for instance. Or rather, don’t, because it’s a dreary, hideous, incomprehensible mess. The task of giving this hopeless, mangled scrap of celluloid any entertainment value whatsoever seems like it ought to be impossible, and yet they do it. My favorite quotes: “He makes Richard Nixon look warm and appealing,” (Kevin, regarding our most personable of heroes); “Life is a turd we all have to smear on our heads,” (Mike, summing up Tony’s initial “speech of despair”); “Sexy or horrifying?—you decide!” (Bill, regarding the semi-nude gyrations of Rue McClanahan). This is the good news.
The bad news is that at least fifteen to twenty minutes of this very short film consists of dancing strippers. Dumpy dancing strippers. Dumpy, dancing, more-or-less explicitly nude strippers. I mean, I knew the film was going to be about strippers, but I was thinking of the wiggly, underdressed chicken dancers found in the Hercules films, or the feathery, saggy-suited dancers of The Incredibly Strange Creatures etc., and thus had not mentally steeled myself to see thick, swaying, pock-faced females in their birthday suits. Presumably the reason for choosing this film was its use of an actress who would later star in America’s most beloved unfunny geriatric sex sitcom. Imagining this aged woman shimmying while clad in nothing but bikini briefs and pasties does not adequately convey the horror of actually seeing it (and by “it,” I mean “them”) displayed across the screen.
The other bad news is that the host segments suck. Part of this is because you can only manage one or two jokes about the lameness of another joke before the meta-lameness sucks the whole situation into an unfunny black hole. Most of it, though, has to do with the pacing, which is deathly slow. The one bright spot is the DVD Extra, Ode to Lunch, a sonnet whose classical structure and silly subject matter most benefit from Bill’s deliberate delivery.
Anyway, this DVD’s going back up on my shelf, where it will probably stay for a long, long time.
(1968, Crime Drama, b&w)